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Guest Post: Millennials and their “Helicopter Parents:” Myth or Reality?

by on March 23, 2015

Today we feature a guest post by Professor Sean Lyons, University of Guelph, Canada.  Sean has published widely about generational issues at work and below explores the emerging trend of ‘Helicopter Parenting’ and the potential impact on young workers.  We are very grateful to Sean for taking the time to write for @ageatwork!  You can find out more about his research via this webpage.

Millennials and their “Helicopter Parents:” Myth or Reality?

Sean Lyons, Ph.D., Department of Management, University of Guelph, Canada

One of the most pervasive caricatures of today’s young workers is that they are the product of over-protective “helicopter parents” who have hovered watchfully over their children at every stage of their development. In a 2012 article in Family Relations, Chris Segrin and colleagues defined helicopter parenting as “a form of over-parenting in which parents apply overly involved and developmentally inappropriate tactics to their children” (p. 237). This parenting style is said to have created a generation of co-dependent adults, who lack the resilience to handle adversity in their own lives. Over the past decade I have heard many anecdotes of overbearing parents intervening in their adult children’s education, micromanaging every detail of academic lives. I initially assumed such stories to be apocryphal and dismissed them as urban legend. However, the frequency and specificity of detail in these stories seems to be increasing.  At a recent speaking event, I asked Chamber of Commerce members “How many of you have had been contacted by parents of employees, applicants or clients in recent years, acting on behalf of their children?” The majority of participants raised their hands. This alone is not evidence of a trend, but it has spurred me to engage in research on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting.

I have been working with Joshua LeBlanc, doctoral candidate in management at the University of Guelph, to investigate this parenting style and its effects on adult children’s careers.  The research concerning the role of parents in children’s career exploration indicates numerous benefits to parental relationships that strike a balance between autonomy and direction, including increased self-efficacy, academic performance, attainment of prestigious careers, feelings of belongingness, career exploration, planning and commitment, mature career decision making, and establishment of peer networks. By failing to strike this balance, helicopter parents may be depriving their children of these benefits. Although research on the effects of helicopter parents is relatively novel, we have identified four areas of potential concern for their adult children: diminished resilience in the face of adversity; unrealistic career expectations; incomplete identity formation; and diminished capacity for secure attachment in adult relationships.

We have just scratched the surface of our understanding of the helicopter parent phenomenon.  However, our initial work suggests that this is a real and important phenomenon that will have lasting impacts on today’s young workers.

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